Repentance is not one of the most exciting topics in the world and perhaps you are not getting into my series on the subject. That’s ok; you’re busy and are looking for more uplifting and encouraging reading. However, be aware that you may be suffering from a form of Kung Fu Repentance and not even know it.
It has been my observation that many people who think they are evidencing true repentance are really not because their penitence is accompanied by self-defense. We can often see this in our marriages; we are sorry for something we have done, but our apology is accompanied by some form of justification. I remember counseling a man who was broken because his wife had left him. I can still hear him say, “It is all my fault. I have tried to control her with my anger and manipulate her by my silence, and I have failed her as a godly husband.”
I was thrilled by what he said and heard the faint rumblings of a repentant heart coming from a very proud and quirky man. However, then he said, “But I wish she would respect me more and listen to what I tell her to do.” I smacked him upside the head! Just kidding, but I sure felt like it because he just Kung Fu’d his repentance right out of my office.
In 1 Samuel 15 we see a very clear example of defensiveness and self-justification hidden behind what looked like repentance. King Saul was commanded by God to wipe out the Amalekites as part of God’s judgment upon the sinfulness of that people. Instead, Saul disobeyed by sparing the king, some of the best livestock, and the money. He did this for his own self-aggrandizement because he had already built a monument to himself (1 Samuel 15:12) and in his mind he was the most important star in the universe. What a change from a man who was at one point “little in his own eyes” and began his career by building an altar for God! (14:35)
Samuel confronted Saul about his disobedience, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears”? Saul had started in with his Kung Fu—“I saved the best animals to give to the Lord.” That is what I call “Religious Kung Fu” where we justify our sinful behavior by spiritualizing it away. Then Saul used the oldest excuse in existence; “It wasn’t really me but my soldiers who took the spoil for themselves.” That one I call the “Adam-style Kung Fu” named after the first guy who blamed his sin on his wife. I wonder if all of this blah blah blah sounded like bleating to Samuel?
After Samuel told Saul that he had been rejected by God as king because of his repeated disobedience, Saul fell on his knees (good posture for repentance) and cried out “I have sinned!” Now we’re getting somewhere… however, notice what followed; “but honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me that I may bow before the Lord your God.” (15:30) Here we see just plain old Kung Fu; nothing fancy, just pure selfishness which had sunk to the level of charade. Saul was done, and lived the rest of his life in depression with momentary flashes of regret.
Let’s go back to the guy who had tried to Kung Fu me in my office. I told him about Saul. I also told him that true repentance would be demonstrated by going to his wife and getting down on his knees, coming clean with the viciousness of his angry manipulative behavior, telling her that he had failed her and God as a husband, and asking her for forgiveness even though he did not deserve it. I told him one more thing; “when you get off your knees, do not expect your wife to suddenly trust you and take you back into her life. You have hurt her deeply and she will be watching you carefully to see if you’ve really changed or whether this is just part of your manipulative bag of tricks.” He never came back to see me, and he Kung Fu’d his marriage.
Repentance without excuse is the life-breath of the Christian. I think it was Gary Thomas in his book Sacred Marriage who said that “couples don’t fall out of love as much as they fall out of repentance.” Maybe the way to reinforce this lesson is to give someone permission to speak into your life and say to you, “what’s that bleating sound I hear?”